Nine months ago Nick Clegg made his Leader’s speech to Conference in front of a backdrop featuring wind turbines. There followed months of speculation about the relationship between Lib Dem Energy Secretary Edward Davey and his junior Minister John Hayes, until the latter was moved. So were Clegg and Davey right to be so forthright in support? New polling numbers suggest so, despite what certain fossilised parts of the media would have us believe.
Over the last year there’s been a slew of opinion polls showing strong support for wind – as Davey said to the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group regarding onshore wind: “I wouldn’t mind having a two thirds majority” – however, some still seemed to feel that backing wind would cost them votes.
If any politician is in doubt about the public’s undiminished appetite for wind energy, may I politely point them in the direction of fresh independent research by ComRes which shows that local and national candidates who support of wind energy are more likely to gain votes.
More than a third of voters in local elections (34%) said they would be more likely to back a candidate who publicly supports building wind farms. Only 24% would be less likely to do so. 36% said it made no difference either way, and 7% didn’t know. So attempts by some Tories and UKIP to characterise opposition to wind energy as a key issue simply don’t resonate with more than three-quarters of voters in local elections.
For those Lib Dem candidates the impact is clear – 41% of Lib Dem voters more likely to support a pro-wind candidate and just 25% less likely, but it’s true across the political divide as well that people like candidates to be pro-wind. More Conservative voters (33%) said they’d be more likely to support a pro-wind farm candidate than those who said they’d be less likely to do so (31%). Just over a third (34%) said it would make no difference. And nearly a quarter of UKIP voters (23%) say they would be more likely to support a candidate who advocates building wind farms – and a further 29% said it would make no difference (plus 3% didn’t know). So within Mr Farage’s own party, less than half his supporters (45%) said they’d be less likely to vote for a pro-wind candidate.
Of course there’s now a General Election to prepare for, and battles over key regions and voter groups. Looking at the impact of a national political party coming out against wind, nearly half of Lib Dem voters would be turned off, compared to 28% who would be more likely to vote for them. Look at the South-West and you see 39% of voters would be put off by parties that taken an anti-wind stance as opposed to just 23% who would welcome it. And with a continued focus on women’s voters we see that 30% would be less likely to vote for an anti-wind party – compared to 22% more likely to. A quarter of all Conservative voters said they would shy away from a candidate who opposed wind energy. Amongst UKIP voters the numbers are even higher, with 29% of those who supported them in 2010 saying they would actually be less likely to back a national party opposing wind. Perhaps the archetypal man in the pub who Nigel Farage claims to speak for should have a word in his ear and set him right. Perhaps the media will start to report “Shock news – UKIP supporters love wind farms”.
Another telling finding within the ComRes poll is that contrary to the coverage in some of those organs of the press, most people aren’t actually going eye-poppingly apoplectic with rage over the issue of generating clean electricity from a natural resource. The views of local candidates on the council tax and building affordable housing, and the stance taken by national candidates on the EU, immigration and reforming school exams, all had a much greater bigger impact. So despite the anti-wind rhetoric from some politicians, ordinary people care much more about other issues.
Bearing all of the above in mind, it might be useful for the wide range of participants in the wind energy debate to recognise that supporters can be found in all parties, and the vociferous opponents don’t speak for the majority. And they don’t even speak for the man in the pub.
* Jennifer Webber is Director of External Affairs at RenewableUK, the trade and professional body representing the wind, wave and tidal energy industries.